Planting a church in a crime centre in central Australia

Written by Katy Spakman

It’s 12.07am and Daniel is still not home from church… He is dropping people back to their town camp homes on a bus.

Earlier today, he dropped off chairs, topped up a power card so that we could have light and sound and picked up some homeless off the hospital lawn, where many sleep.

I then took a 15 seater bus over to our all Aboriginal team to pick them up. They loaded onto the bus, excitedly, with guitars and sound gear and heart’s full of faith! A few of our main leaders, not even saved a year yet, are about to plant their second church in 6 months…

One thing about these men and women is the great joy they take in their salvation and the appreciation they have for Jesus and the cross…. They are so grateful and overwhelmed by Him. It’s contagious and impossible not to catch that fresh fire of first love in their presence!

Daniel arrives to the town camp as the sun is setting and within minutes of unpacking the rows of chairs off a trailer, a large allegedly king brown snake (yes, the kind that kills you) was spotted right near where church was going to be starting, in the yard of the pastor who initiated and invited our team to plant this church.

Before the snake catcher could arrive, king brown conveniently slid under a skip bin, making it impossible to catch.

As a side note, we’ve heard this summer the snake catchers have been doubly busy than other seasons because of the good rains we’ve had…. Apparently snakes lay two lots of eggs instead of one when food supply is good. The snakes here can kill you within 30 minutes of a bite and we spot them on the 5 acres where we live nearly every week lately… it’s made the summer a little more challenging. We get scorching hot days by day and snakes by night, so when and where can you exercise?! Little, minor problem compared to other things around here! Before long, our weather will snap again and our temperatures will plummet once again to freezing temperatures over night. Our fire wood and blanket distribution ministries will be in full swing before we know it!

Church starts and songs of praise and worship in language blast out through our amplifiers into the warm night air. One by one and two by two people take turns to come forward and bring their song offerings…. We all clap along, raising our voices, hearts and hands… many kids start to gather to say hi. They know us from other ministry times and house to house visits and they exclaim excitedly in English, heavily accented “you mob are having church at my place!!!!”

We keep singing and two guys take turns to share their testimonies… more preaching, more songs and then we bring a lady up the front to be prayed for who is being tormented by demons after being cursed at a remote community two hours away. I ask her if I can let everyone know why she’s come forward and she agrees. I described her situation into the microphone, encouraging people to pray with us for her and before I knew it, out of my mouth came “if anyone else here in Karnte camp has any problems with demons, come forward. We can pray for you too”

No one came forward but then an older woman looked at me and said “pray for me. I need prayer”. I immediately knew why. “You’ve got cancer?” I said and she answered “that’s what the doctor said but I believe I can be healed”. We lay hands on her and even now, believe she will be made well!

After taking my seat on a mat on the ground, before long, I find a little boy in my lap falling asleep. It’s coming up to 10pm and there’s lots of noise behind us. I lay the little boy down on a mat to sleep and see Daniel and one of my Aboriginal mums at the back of the crowd looking a bit concerned about our ministry ute as young kids are filling plastic bottles littering the ground with heavy, wet sand and throwing them at each other like bombs close to the car. The potential is there to smash a car window any moment. They have rocks in their hands and one kid has a large pole. Daniel says to me “we need to get this car out of here” and drives the car to a safer, more visible area, under a light and away from the dusty play ground where the kids are.

About 55 adults have gathered and maybe about the same number of children… then those within ear shot of our meeting, in homes are at least 50 too…. This is our first meeting of this new church plant and 150+ people will hear the gospel tonight. It’s a perfect outreach location.

Once Daniel has moved the car, I notice the police car that had been circling the town camp has stopped and is arresting someone. Immediately I felt Holy Spirit say “don’t spectate from a distance. Offer your help”. I walk over to the officers and notice they have put an Aboriginal man in the back of their van. His partner sits alone on a nearby rock holding white gauze over her eye where she is bleeding. “Did you see what happened?” said one of the officers. “No” I said “but is it okay if I sit with the woman?” The officers give me the okay and as I walk over to sit with her an older woman approaches me, recognising me but who I don’t recognise “Katy” she said “this is my daughter in law who is hurt. And that is my son she said pointing to the man locked up in the van where we can see him through an open cage.

I can smell alcohol on the woman’s breath as she tells me her story. “Today is my birthday so we were drinking for my birthday…. My husband plays the keyboard and I wanted him to come out here to church to play for me so I can sing. Then we got into a fight….”

I pray for her as the police officers look on. She says “I’m so happy because you came to me and you prayed for me and I feel all right” and then I fill the officers in quietly to the side on what she told me. As I finished with the police, Daniel arrived and a man was standing to the side. I knew he needed help and we went to him together with one of our female Aboriginal pastors. The three of us stood with him as he explained he was just fighting with his wife but he chose to walk away to cool off…. I knew he wanted prayer and as I offered to pray, he nodded enthusiastically. Under my hand I could feel his heart pound and his breath hard. He was asking Jesus to help him, standing right there on a dark street in a town camp, at a Friday night church meeting, the gospel being preached boldly and with power in the back ground, in their language…

As Jesus drew near to him, I noticed the arm of the Aboriginal pastor lady ministering to him with us. It was shining wet under the street light. For a moment I thought it was oil running over her skin, but then I realised, this man was weeping and his tears were literally flowing down her lovely brown arm. This moment of brokenness before the Lord moved me so deeply.

The man sat to the side on a rock and listened from a bit of a distance to the rest of the message. “We are not perfect. We sin. But HE is perfect! And He has paid for our sin through His death on the cross”

As the preacher (a brother we have grown so close to) finished his message, many flooded forward wanting prayer, including many kids!!!

At this point the mother in law of the injured women, comes to get me, asking me to go with her to a nearby house to pray a blessing over her family. She has alcohol on her breath and momentarily I hesitate to follow her away from my team to a dark home in the middle of the night…. But then I had this urge to get to those people and just knew this sense as God’s longing for them within me.

We get to the house where family had filed out onto the front porch. Two young women were thrusted forward by family for me to pray for. One, a renal patient and pushing a walking aide and the other in a wheelchair. Young people so sick isn’t uncommon here…. Me and one of our Anangu pastors pray together for each of them. We pray for healing miracles for their bodies but don’t forget to ask Jesus simply for his mercy on their souls and that they might get to know Him, His heart, His voice before they leave this life…. He is such a perfect Saviour and Daniel often preaches “the most wonderful miracle we can experience is salvation”….

After helping the guys pack up their sound gear, I drop home some of our pastors while Daniel takes the rest of the team on the bus. We’re both home by 12.30am and although we’re tired, we’re grateful that we can be a part of seeing how Jesus walks among these ones and is longing to meet them right where they’re at.